Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Frankness and Diplomacy

Hal Pepinsky, pepinsky@indiana.edu, pepinsky.blogspot.com
November 30, 2010
In the sixties as overt war broke out in Vietnam, there was a Washington-inspired cliché that if we knew all the secret things the president knew, we would understand why we had to increase troop levels to 500,000. At the time, my super-politically attuned mother, the one who still lives in Worthington, repeatedly pronounced that if all state secrets were suddenly revealed, it would make no difference in the Cold War or international politics generally. Now WikiLeakia offers us a test of her proposition.
I had a top secret clearance for my eight-week adventure as the summer 1967 intern in East Asian legal affairs in the US state dept. I concluded that my mother was right. The one top secret I was ceremoniously made privy to was the fact that we already had troops and bombs bursting on the ground in Cambodia, three years before the white house let us know that the bombing had started. I also learned that heads of state in Laos and Cambodia had agreed that while they would loudly condemn air attacks in their countries, they secretly had agreed to US security measures on their territory.
“Frank” remains a diplomatic term of art for saying and doing politically inappropriate, publicly illegal or unacceptable things under cover of security classification. I think my mom was and remains dead right. We are better off when frank diplomacy comes out of the closet. Frankness is, in my experience and in the leaks we now read, in my opinion a cover for public lies and manipulation.
When I appealed college rejection of my tenure and promotion in 1980 and 1983, I was not allowed to see anything colleagues or outside evaluators had said about me. I spearheaded an effort that eventually led the iuBloomington faculty council to rule that no candidate for promotion or tenure could even waive the right of inspection of what was said about them. Meanwhile, I was assured at highest campus administrative levels would impair the frankness of evaluations. Times changed.
Peacemaking rests on the synergy of honest, open exchange of information.
One week during my state dept internship state sec Dean Rusk us ten legal interns up to his penthouse suite for drinks on a Friday afternoon. He asked us how he could appeal to youth to support this Vietnam “war to end all wars.” I suggested that he might allow foreign office officers to respond to inquiries in the name of their individual positions—e.g., assistant secretary of state for east asian legal affairs—instead of having every message/letter/cable going out of Foggy Bottom have to be “cleared” with signatures from so many bureaucrats as to justify the fact that EVERY MESSAGE FROM THE STATE DEPT GOES OUT UNDER THE SIGNATURE OF THE SECRETARY, AND EVERY MESSAGE FROM ABROAD IN THE NAME OF THE AMBASSADOR.
From the first manuscript I reviewed for publication in the early seventies, I have requested that authors know who I am and how to reach me. I recommend rejection of mss on many occasions. I see no reason why we can’t be openly and frankly critical without being secretive and deceitful. My mama was right. The latest WikiLeaks indicate to me just how irresponsible and ill informed diplomacy becomes when frankness is classified. Love and peace--hal

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